Harris County will ask voters to decide on $1.2B bond for infrastructure, public safety in November

Harris County Commissioners met Tuesday to discuss and consider putting a $1.2 billion bond measure on the November ballot. The measure passed 3-2 late Tuesday night.

The bond would cost the average homeowner an extra $32 per year in property taxes, the county estimates.

Harris County Administrator Dave Berry said he feels confident the overall tax rate will go down in the future.

”Harris County’s tax rate is going to continue to go down,” said Berry. “We’re laying off the debt that we borrowed (and) that frees up money that we can use to pay debt services in a new bond.”

The additional tax dollars would support the following:

  • $900 million for roads, drainage, and transportation
  • $200 million for parks and trails
  • $100 million for public safety facilities and technology

The funds would be split equally between the four precincts with each precinct getting $220 million with the priority on servicing the greatest needs first.

“We’ve got to keep the progress that we’ve been making alive and active, and so, this bond is going to allow us to continue that,” Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said. “If this bond were not to pass, so many projects would actually come to a halt because of the lack of funding for these particular program categories.”

The bond is the first for roads in Harris County since 2015. That’s when voters approved an $848 million total bond that dedicated $700 million to roads, according to a county presentation.

“People want their roadways well. Nobody enjoys hitting potholes. Extending the life of our roadways by effective maintenance and repair programs actually extends the life of our infrastructure,” Garcia said.

But at least one commissioner has already raised concerns about the timing and transparency surrounding the process.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey called the measure too generic. He wrote in a July 19 letter to constituents, “I am concerned about a bond election in 2022 because we have not fulfilled the 3 T’s. We need to clarify where the money is going and how each precinct will benefit.”

The 3 T’s, according to Ramsey, are trust, transparency, and timing.

“Timing is everything in a bond election. At a time of peak inflation and excessive wasteful spending, I am concerned about if this is the best time to increase taxes on the citizens of Harris County,” he wrote.

That’s an issue former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and current State Senator Paul Bettencourt echoed.

“These types of bond issues, when they’re rushed, are likely to be questioned, and quite frankly, with inflation as high as it is, and people’s anxiety about the economic conditions, this is not a good environment for a bond issue in general,” he said in an interview with KPRC 2. “The public is not in the mood of granting automatic yes votes anymore, especially with this level of high inflation.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said he’s supportive of the bond package because it could address infrastructure needs, housing affordability, flooding and transportation and mobility issues.

“At the end of the day, here’s the thing about it, if the voters of this county don’t want this investment in infra they won’t vote for it,” Ellis said. “But I want to give them that chance.”

The commissioners had until Aug. 22 to make a final decision on whether to put the bond measure on the November ballot.

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